I’d had a suspicion that we were going to end up with the full IHRA when the Labour National Executive Committee (NEC) met on 4th Sept. The weekend before, the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, had been making conciliatory noises, seeking to assure the Jewish community that the full IHRA would be adopted. And so it was. The long coda that Corbyn sought, that would allow Labour members to state Israel was a racist state, was not accepted; instead at the behest of Jon Lansman of Momentum and MP Rebecca Long-Bailey the NEC agreed to this weak free speech caveat: “We recommend that we adopt the IHRA in full with all examples. This does not in any way undermine the freedom of expression on Israel or the rights of Palestinians. We re-invite the organisations to re-engage in consultation on the Code of Conduct.”
Skwawkbox refers to Corbyn’s much longer statement protecting free speech, that the NEC may yet adopt, as Code+; their article of the 4th Sept suggests that Corbyn’s coda may be agreed at the next NEC meeting on the 18th Sept or the one following Conference (23-26th Sept) with the 3 new NEC members, none of whom have indicated a preference to me.
My concern is that Corbyn’s statement makes no attempt to challenge Israel’s claim to be a democratic state.
And note – the 205 Labour MPs who passed the full IHRA without caveats on the 5th Sept (there are only 257 in all; only 8 voted against) will not accept Corbyn’s statement without a fight. Tony Greenstein of Labour against the Witch-hunt observed in his blog that:
As Labour MPs voted to adopt, by 205-8 with 12 abstentions, the full IHRA definition of ‘anti-Semitism,’ without even a nod to such concepts as free speech, Israel’s colonial High Court gave the go ahead for the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar, the West Bank village between Jerusalem and the settlement of Maaleh Adumim, to proceed. In place of Khan al-Ahmar, which has only been there for nearly 70 years, will be Jewish only settlements. By what definition of racism is this not racist? If Jews in Britain were evicted to make way for non-Jews would that not be anti-Semitic? Only a racist can pretend that Israel is not an inherently racist state, yet this is what 205 Labour MPs did.
I share Tony’s pessimistic view that without a proper campaign, we are stuck with what the NEC and PLP has agreed. Sadly, most Labourists just want to move on, now.
But I digress. I woke in the night before the fateful NEC meeting and realised the worst may come to pass. I headed for the computer and prepared a petition on Change.org; but not just an ordinary petition, because they are often ignored – this one had to be a death wish. I waited all day for the announcement and within minutes of the BBC news at 6pm I had posted it on over 20 Facebook groups for different Labour Party supporters (yes, I’m a member of all of them!). Soon the pages were ablaze with passion as comments rolled in – some loved the petition and signed and shared it immediately, some thought I was trying to re-open wounds that desperately needed to heal. Here’s what it says:
“Labour members declaring Israel a racist endeavour ask NEC to abandon full IHRA
We Labour Party members declare Israel to be a racist endeavour. We are not anti-Jew.
We challenge our National Executive Committee to expel us from the Party, if you believe that, according to the IHRA definition you adopted on the 4th Sept, we are anti-Semitic. If you will not, we expect you to return Labour to its previous position, which allowed full freedom of speech on Israel.
We also call into question the adopted point 3) “Applying double standards to Israel by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation”. Israel cannot claim to be a democratic nation. Haaretz noted that the number of Arabs in Israel (including Gaza and the West Bank) will exceed that of Jews by 2020. If it were a true democracy, the country would shortly be ruled by Arabs, a prospect so terrifying to Jewish leaders that they can only maintain their control through denying the 4.4 million Arabs living in the occupied areas the right to vote in national elections.
We believe that of 550,000 members, the fact that only 45 alleged cases are active in the LBC leaked dossier shows there is no particular problem with anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. However, adopting the full IHRA will multiply the number of these cases many times over. Please keep the Labour Party unified and abandon the added examples that stifle me from expressing my view on the racist nature of Israel and the lack of democracy there.
My name is below…”
If any Mondoweiss readers are in the Labour Party and feel inspired to sign the petition, they can go here.
So far, 99 people have signed, volunteering to put themselves in the firing line. When preparing the petition, I was minded by the film “Spartacus” where revolting slaves came forward to declare “I am Spartacus” knowing they’ll be crucified, all claiming to be the rebel the Romans wanted most. But I don’t want to see a line of crucified Labourists stretching along the Appian Way leading back to Rome.
In fact, I am hoping here that the NEC will not, in fact expel any of us. It won’t be worth the candle. If they ignore us, which I guess they’ll be inclined to do, it will send a strong message to all Party members that it is still OK to say that Israel is a racist state. And we need to make clear that its claim to be a democracy is false.
I sent a press release to over 100 journalists. Of course, nothing in the newspapers yet; the press have gotten bored of the whole affair. But if I can get 200 folk to sign, I think they’d have to publish something. I mean, putting 200 people through the Labour Party expulsion processes for saying the truth? I think the NEC would struggle with that.
But getting the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) to change course will be another huge challenge. One of the 205 Labour MPs who voted in favour of the full IHRA told me: “Every other institution in the UK from the police and schools to universities and courts use the IHRA definition. For the Labour Party not to, sets us apart from the entire country and the stories that have come out since, show that the leadership has some anti-Semitism on them. That’s not right for a party and persons that want to lead the country.”
But just because the schools and Unis were browbeaten into it by May’s Government, it does not mean that Labour should be too. Also note that 80% of Conservative MPs are members of “Conservative Friends of Israel” so it’s no surprise the Government is on the side of Netanyahu on this. Israel is pulling every UK politicians’ strings, as Al Jazeera’s undercover investigation “The Lobby” shows.
I’m aware that my petition is a bit weak, coming from me myself I, with no other body mentioned. I started fishing last week, sending my petition to the many groups around the UK that might be sympathetic. I discovered early doors that London Momentum activists were a world away from my own in Edinburgh. The Camden and Brent groups are well-known for their activity on this front. On the 20th August, an emergency meeting called by Camden Momentum and attended by over 110 members from 16 Momentum groups, overwhelmingly agreed this petition:
The members elected Jeremy Corbyn. The IHRA definition would return the party to the right which we voted down by a large majority – twice. Therefore, the members, not the NEC, nor the PLP, must decide whether or not to adopt the IHRA examples. We demand that the decision be put to a vote of all Labour Party members.
So far they have a lot more signatures than me – 2,731, which rather puts mine in the shade – but my 99 are willing to put their necks on the line in what may possibly be a drawn-out disciplinary process leading to their expulsion as anti-Semites, with consequent vilification at the hands of Laura Kuenssberg, Dame Margaret Hodge et al.
The problem I face too, is convincing a weary NEC that the IHRA is a subject worth revisiting. Quite a few Labour Party members have told to give it a rest and heed Corbyn and McDonnell’s plea that we get on the front foot and prioritise our programme for government. I counter with the following:
- Labour was founded on social justice – and that’s what this is about. The abominable treatment of Arabs by Israel is the biggest recruiting tool for Al Qaeda, ISIS and the rest. By refusing to allow us to speak the truth about Israel, the world is made a more dangerous place.
- There are 2.8 million Muslims in the UK. Most Muslims identify with the Palestinians. They see a Labour Party keen to appease Zionists, but deaf to Arab views. The Party ignores this demographic to its disadvantage. Muslims have little confidence that a Labour Government will be serious about addressing the biggest problem in the Middle East. Their votes are at risk for the sake of some of the UK’s 370,000 Jews, many of whom wouldn’t vote Labour anyway..
- Not allowing free speech on Israel or any subject is against everything the Labour Party stands for. By denying racism there we severely compromise our ability to call for change. We cannot even point out that Israel’s claim to be a democracy is false, too.
- Voters observe that if Labour can be bullied this easily over alleged anti-Semitism, how will it cope if it ever gets into power? Suggest renationalising the Railways? Tax Amazon? Change press ownership rules? “How impractical! And dangerous!” the media and the right will say to this and all the 100 policies to transform Britain (that you’ll find on one page here). Few will come to pass – the press and the wealthy conservatives will use every trick in the Trump scare-mongering book to make sure the manifesto stalls once Labour is in office. We must show voters we can stand up to bullies and have confidence in our beliefs.
So to win and make lasting change, turning the clock back on the IHRA is a step we have to take.
To conclude, part of the problem is that many of the PLP are Blairites. Without their hand, I doubt if we’d be in this position. Sadly Netanyahu, British Zionists, Conservatives and the Labour Right have a common aim in unseating Corbyn. Having thrown a lot of mud at him over the summer, they’re hoping that he emerges, weakened – and that all can now move on to new and exciting ways to make him unelectable. But as a beaten dog, he is strangely attractive to the vast multitudes of working people who admire his principled stance. Like Jesus, the more they beat him, the more sacred he becomes. But is it enough?
What we are seeing is a Party in fear of the media, allowing Zionists to undermine freedom of speech. What we need to do is show those in fear of bad press that the NEC cannot pay lip service to a thing that it does not believe in. For who can argue that Israel is not a racist state? It’s as if we’re allowing Theresa May and Netanyahu to write our rule book here.